That which is growing inside Mary’s womb—what is it? Is it birth material or an unborn child? a fetus or a baby? a human zygote or a miracle from God? What do you call it?
What do you call it when the Holy Spirit comes upon a virgin named Mary and the power of the Most High overshadows her? when he takes her unfertilized egg, just barely visible to the human eye, and in the secret place begins to knit together the body of Christ?
What do you call it when undiminished deity is contained within a single cell?
Do you understand that he will not merely come from this? that he will not somehow emerge out of it? That holy embryo is he himself. And from that humble beginning, he will pass through every stage of human life and development, redeeming each one, healing each one.
The angel called him the Son of God. That day was a time of grace.
(Please read Luke 1:26-38.)
King David, around 1000 B.C., concluded that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made.”27 Consider that all he had seen of himself was human skin, which almost magically sewed itself back up when it was cut. It snapped his head back and lifted his eyes to the sky. A loose translation of David’s original Hebrew is, “Wow!” We’ve been able to look a lot closer at the human body than David. Guess what? The mystery only deepens. Exponentially.
Have you ever seen two human heart cells dropped at opposite ends of a petri dish—how they begin to beat together to some unseen Conductor? Have you seen brain cells reach out to one another with tiny arms, grasping one another in a human thought? Cut your skin and at the far end of your body, white blood cells will begin their baffling march, elongating their bodies to squeeze through tissue and spending their tiny bits of life smothering any invader they meet.
But we can look even closer than that. Have you ever looked down an electron microscope at tiny spinning machines, bits of energy circling other bits at mind-numbing speeds, that laugh at every known law of the universe?
One more question. Have you ever seen your own unborn baby through an ultrasound? Remember how your heart pounded and your love awoke. And I ask, is this how one feels about a chance collection of molecules? No.
It is wonderful. It is fearful. And scientific descriptions don’t change it one bit. Science is mere observation. The magic is not explained. You can never get behind the curtain and say, “Ah, I see how he does it.” It is a miracle.
And King David may have come up with the most telling word ever thought of to describe unborn life in the womb when he referred to it as “me.” He once wrote to God, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.”28 I didn’t come from a fertilized egg any more than I came from a teenager or a toddler. I was a boy, before that a baby, and before that an embryo. That embryo may not have been medically viable, but it was, in a word, me.
It all started, that is, I started with a single cell. Lewis Thomas wrote about the union of sperm and egg in the single cell—the start of every human story: “The mere existence of that cell should be one of the greatest astonishments of the earth. People ought to be walking around all day, all through their waking hours, calling to each other in endless wonderment, talking of nothing else except that cell.”29 It is life, and we have no right to destroy it.
If there were no Word of God to guide us on the question of abortion, we could go to science instead and ask three compelling questions about that growing tissue in the woman’s womb: Is it alive? Is it human? Is it a person distinct from its mother?
By any definition of life you choose, by the humanity written into the DNA, by the genetic code of the unborn child that is different from that of any cell of the woman’s body, science itself must answer “yes, yes, and yes.” These facts are not in dispute.
But we need to ask deeper questions than these. For these we have to leave the barren world of the materialist behind, leave behind the semantic games and the arguing about rights. We need to come back to the real world, the one made by God, to ask, What is life worth? Where does its value come from? In the Christian circle, we don’t talk about “quality of life”—on a scale of pleasure or productivity— to measure life’s value. Bill Gates and a Down’s syndrome child, the product of rape and the product of love all balance equally on the scale. They are alive. Their values lie in what they are to God—not trash, not accident, not animal, but special creations and designs by God, who stared at the blank canvas forever before he began, who wrote every day in his thoughts before each of them came to be, who thinks of nothing else the way he thinks of them.
You and your conscience need only be shocked awake by tiny body parts in plastic bags. Have we lost our minds? Let the spell be broken! The real world is a raging battleground between real evil and real good, and these are its casualties. Have we heard Satan whispering to that woman who is pregnant and afraid, “End it, destroy it . . . and it will be well with you”? Have men stood long enough behind women in the appalling silence of Adam, who stood there in the garden . . . saying nothing?
This is hard talk, I know, but I’m not trying to hurt you. But if I work too hard at not offending you, I will offend God instead. So I must tell you what I heard happily thumping along when the fetal heart monitor was turned on—I heard life—and I must ask why you don’t hear it too. Perhaps there’s a reason. I know women who have aborted their children, destroying part of themselves along with their babies. For a long time they had locked themselves into the pro-choice position, barricaded behind the propaganda that only made sense because they wanted it to. From where they stood, the truth was just too awful to see. That is, until Life came in and they found out there was grace even for this.
There is grace because of one holy embryo that silently grew in Mary. People ought to call to one another during all their waking hours in endless wonderment, talking of nothing except that cell—Immanuel, which means “God come to be here with us.” The child grew up and the man not only wept at our death but died of it and came to life again. All this he did to be able to say to you: “Twice mine! Once because I made you. Twice because having lost you, I bought you with my own blood.” No matter what you’ve done. No matter what you’ve done.
And so to all the discussions about life in science labs and lecture halls, we add our three little words that tell what life really is, that speak eloquently of its true value. Life is a time of grace. That window of time between conception and death is our time for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and the power of the Most High to overshadow us, our time to receive that forever kind of life by faith in Jesus.
My friend who pastors in Ternopil, Ukraine, writes me that they keep coming, the little babies who have survived saline abortions. He baptizes them, letting water and the Word run over their scarred foreheads.
Where sin abounds, grace does even more.
She was alone, in no position to give her new baby boy the best he could have. She was already struggling as a single parent. She would give her baby to a loving, childless couple. She would make them a family. It was the hardest thing she would ever do.
It was a beautiful choice.
I was with her in the hospital room the last time she held him. I remember all the questions she had about my Christian faith. “How can a God of love . . . ?” “What about those people who never hear . . . ?” “Where was he when I needed him?” I remember all her challenges.
But then, stroking her baby’s face, she looked up at me and asked, “Do you think God brought me this child to bring me to him? Because God knows what it’s like to give a Son away, doesn’t he?”
It is a time of grace.